MANILA Islamist militants in the Philippines killed 18 people on Monday in revenge for their clan's support of government efforts to bring stability to the resource-rich region and the military warned of more bloodshed.
The Philippines is majority Catholic but islands in the far south are mostly Muslims and governments have for decades battled autonomy-seeking rebels.
While the government has reached a tentative peace deal with the main Muslim rebel group, members of the hardline Abu Sayyaf are still fighting.
About 50 members of the Abu Sayyaf attacked a convoy of vehicles taking people to a celebration for the Eid al-Fitr holiday outside Talipao town on Jolo island, Brigadier-General Martin Pinto told reporters.
Eighteen people, most of them women, were killed and 11 people, many of them children, were wounded. Troops were hunting for the gunmen, Pinto said.
The victims belonged to clan which has been helping government peace efforts with information about the rebels and the ambush was retaliation, another military official said.
"Obviously, the rebels are hurt by the information coming from the civilians," said the second military official, who declined to be identified.
In March, the government signed a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front), the largest Muslim rebel faction, ending 45 years of conflict that killed 120,000 people, displaced 2 million and stunted growth in the south.
But the government has refused to negotiate with the small and more violent Abu Sayyaf, blamed for beheadings, bombings and kidnappings. The U.S. State Department has listed the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robert Birsel)